Monday, April 19, 2010

Device Wars

The iPad has sure taken money from peoples pockets in a hurry.  I don’t know about you but I’m starting to find it difficult at times to make sense of all the choices.  School Principals and Teachers often seek my advice on what to buy for students or what to recommend to parents to buy for their kids.  I have to step out of my adult self to try to see device choices through the eyes of a young person.  We adults are biased in our choices to what we know and prefer.  Kids are often more willing to use / try new devices and make them work for their needs.  We need to be sure to acknowledge that they will see things differently then we adults do.

I wrote a post about using iPod Touch devices in classrooms – we have some schools considering class-sets of these to support learning.  Many schools are considering netbooks as the next big thing for students. Their size and price are attractive for sure.  But aren’t they simply a smaller cheaper laptop?  Is this the right device? 

Wired Magazine’s April 2010 edition has an article “Why the new generation of tablet computers changes everything”.  In this article the iPad is described as a post-PC era device where we flick, roll, tap, stretch content on our tablets – no need for a real keyboard.  The iTunes AppStore provides a trusted means to get inexpensive apps for the iPad.  Apple enforces design standards so the iPad’s apps will provide a proven acceptable experience for users.  I agree with the author though that to do real work on a computer, the keyboard is still king – students still need to write and create – these are higher order processes.  I’m not so sure the iPad is a post-PC device, rather I suggest it could fill the gap between a small screen (cellphone, iPod) and a laptop.  It is in addition to, not instead of.  I think it is really a question of “how mobile”.  Small, light, instant on devices are great for consuming content when on the move.  But when you need to do “real” work, a real keyboard is still most effective.

The author continues on and talks about Google’s upcoming Chrome OS and the “wave of Chrome-powered netbooks set for release this fall”.  Cloud computing would seem to be Google’s vision of the future – use their OS on a netbook and store all of your content in the cloud (preferably theirs they would say) and trust us...  I worry about how people, many educators, many IT folks, are so willing to embrace the cloud.  Giving away control of our content, our identity information, and trusting face-less corporations seems a bit irresponsible doesn’t it?  I think we need to slow things down a bit here. We are too trusting, too quick to give up privacy to gain “free” access to tools.  We need to address the ownership, control, privacy, and related security questions.  The cloud “device” needs more thought…

Will Richardson shares a post and video he created of his friend, an educator and NY Times blog author, Warren Buckleitner talking about the value of the iPad for younger children. 

Sure it’s a cool, interesting tool that young children can use and learn with – if I had young children, I’d probably want one for them to use, but is it worth the cost?  What is about tools like this that make us think young kids will need it?  How does it improve their life chances over other forms of play and learning?

In my School District I advocate for families providing personally owned devices (PODs) for their children to bring to school – part of the school supply list.  As the price approaches zero for a POD, this makes good sense.  Every student really needs their own “digital pencil”.  But, what device should kids buy to support their learning?  A laptop, netbook, iPod, iPod Touch, cellphone, iPad?  They can’t afford them all.  Should they have more than one type? The other challenge is the built-in obsolescence driven by the creators of these devices.  What is cool and amazing today, will be seemingly out of date by Christmas and they’ll/we’ll want the new one!  New becomes old so much more quickly these days…

I think school systems and educators need to be more critical about devices.  We should have clear ideas about how devices help students learn or help teachers teach, in ways not possible without the devices, and in ways that really improve learning and teaching, in measureable ways.  Devices should be transformative shouldn’t they?  Increased engagement is certainly a positive factor for kids with devices, but doesn’t the shine wear off quickly? 

What do you think about the new devices?  Which do you recommend for students to use?  For teachers to use?  Peering 5-10 years out, what do you think the next big thing in devices might be, should be?  Do you also worry about cloud computing and the implications of losing control, privacy, etc.?